Monday, September 5, 2011

When ingredients dictate the recipe - Jerk Chicken

Have you ever bought an ingredient on impulse, just because it caught your eye, without any specific idea of what you’re going to do with them? I did that a couple of weeks ago, with a basket of habanero chilis.

After staring at them for a while, then safely storing them in a cupboard, out of reach from my ever-curious cat, I launched an appeal on Facebook: what to do with way too many of the hottest chilis in the world? I was honestly expecting mostly suggestions for salsa, or maybe jellies, but instead got requests for beef jerky, preserves, and jerk chicken. Way to think out the box, people!

I opted to make jerk chicken, as suggested by Ken of A Food Year. I then planned to air dry the remaining chilis to preserve them, as suggested by Evelyne of Cheap Ethnic Eatz, then crush them and use them to make jerky, as suggested by a non-blogging friend of mine who loves food so much and has such a great imagination that he really should be blogging.

Unfortunately, the air drying process went terribly wrong. Now I know: next time I want to dry chilis, make sure they’re not touching each other. As for the jerk chicken… It was good, but definitely not the epic meal I was hoping for – although it turns out that was my fault.

I’d never made jerk chicken, and had eaten it maybe once in my life, too long ago for me to recall the flavour. I did some browsing, then opted for this recipe, because it seemed straightforward. I made a couple of alterations, such as using chicken pieces instead of halves, and honey instead of molasses. Also, following Ken’s warnings, I did NOT use a blender to make the entire marinade: it stands to reason that the habanero heat would be impossible to clean out, and would linger and taint any blended food for months.

I’ve had my share of chili burns, so I asked Laurent to bring me some latex gloves from his lab (sometimes, a fiancé who works in a lab is a cook’s dream come true). It’s funny how, despite having only ever been on the receiving end of surgery (and only wisdom teeth removal at that), wearing those gloves made me instinctively hold my paring knife the way a surgeon holds a scalpel. I guess all those medical TV dramas end up making an impression.

Everything went well, and the chicken tasted fine, but there’s no way I would rank it in my Top 5 Hottest Dishes ever. The latter, by the way, would probably include most of what I’ve eaten at Cuisine Szechuan (particularly the pork tongue with pickled chilis), chicken vindaloo from an otherwise unremarkable Indian restaurant, an eggplant dish at a Thai restaurant in Vienna, and the time I doused my enchilada with homemade salsa verde. This jerk chicken didn’t even come close to any of those. But then… I realized I had seeded the peppers, which explained everything. Next time, I’m leaving the seeds in.

It was also a tad too sweet for my taste, but it’s hard to say whether this was sweetness from the honey and dark rum, or if it was just an impression of sweetness, from the allspice and cinnamon (unlike most people, I’ve never been a huge fan of cinnamon). Hard to say, and since my remaining habanero chilis have sadly been destroyed, I can’t try the recipe again until I get my hands on some more, provided they’re still available somewhere. Just in case though, I’d reduce the cinnamon next time, from personal preference.

Nevertheless, it was still a very tasty meal, so here’s the recipe. I served it with plain white rice, cooked the Persian way. I’m guessing it’s not the way jerk chicken is served traditionally, but I wanted to try it. Gotta love that crust that forms on the bottom of the pan! But that recipe is for another post.

Jerk Chicken
Slightly adapted from Simply Recipes

For the marinade:
120 ml (1/2 cup) white vinegar
2 tbsp dark rum
2 habanero chilis, finely minced, with seeds (remove seeds for a milder version)
1 red onion, chopped
4 scallion tops, chopped
2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp salt
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 tsp ground allspice
2 tsp ground cinnamon
4 tsp ground nutmeg
4 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp honey

1 whole chicken, cut into 10 pieces, skin on
120 ml (1/2 cup) lemon juice
Salt and pepper, to taste

NOTE: It is important to wear gloves whenever handling habanero chilis, or anything containing chilis, such as the marinade. Avoid touching your eyes or any sensitive areas. Also, wash your hands after manipulating the chilis, and thoroughly wash your knife, cutting board, and utensils.

Put all the marinage ingredients, except the habanero chilis, in a blender and pulse until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the minced chilis.

Wearing latex gloves to protect your hands, rub the chicken pieces with the marinade Place in a non-reactive bowl or baking dish and cover (or put in a Ziploc bag and seal), and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 180ºC (350ºF). Place the chicken pieces skin side up on a baking sheet, and bake for 40 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through (the breasts will typically cook faster than the thighs). For a crispy skin, broil for a few minutes, keeping a close eye on the chicken to prevent burning.

Serve with plain white rice.


  1. Oh, I adore jerk chicken! Now that I have a grill again, I'm going to have to make it.

    It's also nice to know that there are others out there who are cinnamon wary! Though I'm an odd duck and adore it in savory food but can't stand it sweet food.

    I'm looking forward to your post on the Persian rice. :)

  2. I have a confession to make; there is something about chicken wings and well, pieces with bones in them that just.. well, it doesn't excite me..let's say. All that is due to some sort of trauma I got when killing one myself at the age of 15.. (long story) Ever since.. I just like my chicken to be cleaned preferably.. lol..

  3. YES Persian rice crust RULES! Ah sorry you were not blown away by your results but it still looks very good. I do find jerk chicken spicy but I never would put it in a top 5 or 10 spiciest world dishes. I do hope you get more and try the recipe again!

  4. I think I need to find a way to get my RSS feeds fixed because I keep missing posts like this! I check my fav blogs sporadically, instead, like yours, which leads to all the missed posts! Anyway..I LOVE jerk chicken, and the recipe you used looks and sounds amazing, although I wouldn't like it too sweet either. Good to know that the lack of heat was due to seeding the habanero's, though. LOL@ the latex gloves and surgical procedure. I did the same with my peaches 'n steam cupcakes back in '08! lol

    Also, love that you 'claim' all the meats according to Laurent! So cute and funny!

  5. oh please, please post how to create the crust on the bottom of the rice! thanks.